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Spice Cured Turkey for Mocksgiving

October 28, 2009

Every cook feels the best part about Thanksgiving is the turkey.  It needs to be juicy, flavorful, and fully cooked, but not tough and chewy.  I have a couple tricks up my sleeve to ensure the perfect bird.

Years ago I tried the brining method.   Flavorful and moist it was, but it was still a little tough and chewy.  Then I switched to the butter-rub method, which makes the meat perfectly tender.

I have a couple rules:

  • Number one, always buy organic or at least free range, and try not to buy frozen (I am a big fan of Diestel, specifically their Heidi’s Hens birds).
  • Number two, put the butter rub both under and over the skin.
  • Number three, treat heidi the hen, or tom the turkey to a spa day.  This is usually the step that makes people cringe.  When you loosen the skin around the breast, you want to very gently massage the butter onto the meat for 5-10 minutes.  The pressure should be like giving a facial.  This rubs the butter in and tenderizes the meat.  I am also known to talk to the bird to thank it for providing its bounty with us on the holiday.  People think I am being funny, but I am usually pretty serious 🙂

This year, I ran across a Martha Stewart Recipe that called for both a brine and a butter rub, which included all of my husband’s favorite spices.  I thought it was worth a try to combine the two methods.  So we started a new annual tradition called Mocksgiving, where we have an urban Thanksgiving with our friends, a month before the big day.  I wanted to test the recipes I had chosen before committing myself.

The turkey turned out fabulous!  It was moist, tender, and flavorful.  It held up well on its own, and made a great sandwich filling the next day.  Part of that was also due to the new carving method my hubby used (Take the whole breast off, and then slice across the grain.  Don’t try to carve perfect slices straight off the bird at the dining table like they do in the movies.  Slicing parallel to the “spine” only makes it more chewy.  You want to slice it parallel to the ribs).

I was very hesitant that the recipe called for stuffing the bird – something I have always been very wary of.  But I obsessively checked the temperature of the stuffing, the breast and the thigh and everything reached a safe temperature.  The trick was only stuffing the bird with half the stuffing (so it was only loosely stuffed), cooking the other half of the stuffing separately, and then mixing them together to serve.

My version of Martha’s Recipe below.  Next year, I might play with the spice combination for a more “apple cider” feel.  Don’t be scared of the Cumin, while I am not normally a big fan, it was a great addition.  Also, I didn’t like how the gravy turned out.  I am always a big fan of the Williams Sonoma Jar that you mix with milk (and its much healthier).  Sorry about the un-prepped photo – I had hungry people and side dishes to finish.

Spice Cured Turkey

Serves 12 to 14

4 cups coarse salt
5 cups sugar
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 stalks celery, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 onions, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 leeks, cut into 1-inch pieces and cleaned of all sand
3 bay leaves
1 head garlic, cut in half crosswise
2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons crushed red-pepper flakes
1 teaspoon cloves
2 teaspoons whole allspice
7 cups water
1 cup unfiltered, unsweetened apple cider
1 (18-20 pound) organic turkey
1 recipe Apple-Chestnut Stuffing
1 recipe Spice Butter, softened
Container of Chicken Stock


  1. In a large stockpot, combine salt, sugar, carrots, celery, onions, leeks, bay leaves, garlic, peppercorns, cumin, red-pepper flakes, cloves, and allspice. Add the water and apple cider, and bring to a boil. Remove from heat. The brine needs to cool completely before the turkey is soaked in it: It can be made a day ahead or chilled over an ice bath.
  2. Rinse turkey under cold water; pat dry (Clean your sink and surrounding counterspace when you are finished). Place in stockpot or large brining bag, breast side down. Add brine and enough water to cover. Cover the stockpot, and refrigerate overnight. Remove turkey from brine; drain.
  3. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Secure skin over neck cavity with toothpicks or skewers.  Gently loosen the skin from the breast.   Massage half of the butter under the skin onto the breast.  Rub turkey with the remaining spice butter, and place on a rack in a roasting pan.  Tuck wings under the bird.
  4. Right before you put the bird in the oven, fill cavities with stuffing, being careful not to pack too tightly.  Then tie legs together with kitchen twine.
  5. Place in oven, and roast 30 minutes. Baste with pan drippings, rotate pan, and reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees. Continue basting every 30 to 45 minutes, switching between the pan drippings and the chicken stock, until temperature taken in thickest part of the thigh registers 180 degrees. Around 3 1/2 to 4 hours. Once turkey is well browned, tent with foil. Allow turkey to rest 30 minutes before carving. While turkey is resting, remove stuffing.
2 Comments leave one →
  1. kamil permalink
    October 28, 2009 7:42 pm

    This was the best tasting turkey I had ever eaten, moist and flavorful throughout.

  2. October 29, 2009 8:31 pm

    That turkey looks incredible. I can’t believe it’s real. My mouth is watering.

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